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Feature Christmas 2019: Express Yourself

Round the bend

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 18 December 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6654
  1. Tony Delamothe
  1. Correspondence to T Delamothe

This Christmas marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of “Magnetic resonance imaging of male and female genitals during coitus and female sexual arousal.” Why did it become one of the most downloaded BMJ articles of all time?

The paper reported a study whose objective was “To find out whether taking images of the male and female genitals during coitus is feasible and . . . whether former and current ideas about the anatomy during sexual intercourse and during female sexual arousal are based on assumptions or on facts.”1

The main findings, based on 13 experiments performed with eight couples and three single women, were that during intercourse in the “missionary position” the penis assumes the shape of a boomerang, and that during sexual arousal the size of the uterus does not increase (as Masters and Johnson23 had believed). The article was accompanied by Leonardo da Vinci’s The Copulation (circa 1493) (fig 1) and RL Dickinson’s midsagittal drawing of the same subject (1933) (fig 2). The “objective” and “true to nature” magnetic resonance images (MRIs) obtained in the 1999 study contradicted the beliefs inscribed in these illustrations.

Fig 1

The Copulation as imagined by Leonardo da Vinci.4 With permission from the Royal Collection. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is gratefully acknowledged

Fig 2

Midsagittal image of the anatomy of sexual intercourse envisaged by RL Dickinson and drawn by RS Kendall …

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